Fleet Financial Group stock went into a tailspin Thursday after a breakfast meeting with New York analysts fueled doubts about the Rhode Island-based bank's ability to increase interest income.
Four firms - Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., Merrill Lynch & Co., Hancock Institutional Equities Service, and Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. - cut earnings estimates, sending the New England regional's shares down $2.125 to $31. More than 2.5 million shares were traded, compared with average daily volume of 604,000.
Although Fleet reported a 21% increase in fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday, the analysts all reduced their 1995 earnings estimates following a breakfast meeting with Fleet's chief financial officer, Eugene McQuade. They cited the decline in net interest income to $493 million from $505 million in the third quarter.
"As the company points out, they have taken roughly $7 billion off the balance sheet since August, and in our view it will be exceedingly difficult to releverage this company in the near term to a degree sufficient to meet the present earnings expectations of Wall Street," said Brown Brothers analyst Nancy Bush. She reduced her 1995 earnings estimate to $4.50 per share from $4.90, while downgrading the stock to "neutral" from "buy."
Merrill Lynch analyst Livia Asher said Fleet had already realized expense savings from its reengineering initiative, and that expenses and loan losses and could rise next year.
"The revenue picture there is very murky," said Keefe Bruyette analyst Thomas Theurkauf. He later raised his rating on the company to "hold," however, saying the price drop made the stock more attractive.
Although much of the information was available in Fleet's earnings release, the meeting seemed to underscore analysts' misgivings, and they hurried back to their offices to issue revised estimates.
"There was something of a jailbreak right after the meeting," Mr. Theurkauf said. "Poor Eugene McQuade came into town thinking he was going to have a nice breakfast, and he was taking 10% of the market cap off his company."